By now, many employees and employers are at least generally familiar with the laws that protect employees from termination if they take leave from work to care for their own serious medical condition or the serious medical condition of a family member. But what happens if, after taking leave to care for the serious medical condition of a family member, the family member tragically passes away? Can the employee take leave from work to attend the funeral without fear of losing their job? Or, can the employee take leave from work to grieve the death without fear of losing their job? Unfortunately, unless the employer has an express policy stated in its handbook or collective bargaining agreement that provides for such leave, the answer is NO.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, and similar mini-FMLA's found in many states, protect leave taken to care for family members but do not provide protection for leave taken to attend a funeral or grieve if the family member passes away. This means that employees may be terminated from their jobs if they take leave to attend a funeral or to grieve the death of their family members.
Help may be on the way because Oregon recently became the first state in the country to pass a law protecting bereavement leave. It takes effect January 1, 2014 and provides up to two weeks of leave for an employee to attend a funeral or grieve the death of a family member. Hopefully, other states will follow Oregon's lead and enact similar laws.